Saint Petersburg tourists undeterred after metro attack

Maxime POPOV
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An Orthodox priest leads a service in memory of the victims of April 3 metro blast outside Technological Institute station in Saint Petersburg on April 5, 2017

Dutch tourist Nina Bollen counted off the string of attacks that have hit Western capitals as she stood in the courtyard of the world famous Hermitage museum in Saint Petersburg.

"Paris, London, Berlin," the student told AFP.

"Terrorists strike everywhere. There's no such place with zero risks. But we can't just all stay in our own countries. People will go on."

Now Russia's second city is reeling after a bombing on the metro system left 14 people dead and dozens injured.

The attack -- believed to have been carried out by a 22-year-old Russian national originally from Kyrgyzstan -- rocked the former capital just over two months before it hosts the opening game and final of the Confederations Cup football tournament.

The city is a major tourist destination for visitors from around the globe who flock to take in its imperial splendour, grand palaces and glimmering canals.

On the vast Dvortsovaya square Chinese tourists stopped to pose alongside lookalikes of historical Russian rulers Catherine the Great and Peter the Great.

Officials said that they had stepped up security around key locations such as the Hermitage Museum and the metro in response to the attack but visitors insisted life appeared to be continuing as normal.

For Lisa and Frederic, two French tourists, Monday's bombing largely went unnoticed as they spent the day taking in the sights.

"We saw flowers and candles but there were no large gatherings as there had been in Paris" following the November 2015 attack, Frederic said.

"We barely see a difference now."

On Nevsky Prospekt, the city's main thoroughfare, tourists windowshopped and browsed kiosks selling traditional Russian nesting dolls.

- 'Come here' -

The local authorities have been quick to try to reassure visitors as they try to ward off any damage to the vital tourism industry that saw some 2.8 million foreign visitors flock to the city in 2016.

"I can say that just as everyone still goes to Paris and London that they should come here too," said governor Georgy Poltavchenko.

"We live in a world where there is this evil -- terrorism, but our task is to provide security for people to enjoy themselves peacefully and I am sure we can do that."

Tour operators said it was still too early to fully gauge the impact of the attack but insisted that there had been no signs of any major cancellations.

"There could be some, but demand remains very high," said Irina Tyorina, a spokeswoman for Russia's tour industry union.

"For summer all hotel rooms are booked up and that is the time when foreign tourists mainly come."

Industry experts from other cities such as Paris and Berlin that have seen recent attacks agreed that while there might be some slowdown in the short term there was unlikely to be any lasting damage.

And for the tourists in Saint Petersburg at the time of the attack there seemed little doubt that the magnificent city would continue to attract people from all around the world.

"Terrorism can be everywhere," said American Nick Hewitt, 33, as he looked out over the grand Neva river

"We're not just going to stop living our lives, stop travelling. It needs to be business as usual."